Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA)
The RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) is a process of Christian formation by which a person becomes a member of the Catholic Church. The Church provides a step-by-step apprenticeship in Catholicism for adults and children who have reached catechetical age (approximately age 7).
The first part of the RCIA process (called the Precatechumenate Period or Inquiry Period) offers an opportunity for curious non-Catholics to have their questions answered in an open, friendly environment that encourages conversation and dialogue. This might be helpful for non-Catholic spouses of Catholics to learn more about what their loved one believes and why. One can simply attend inquiry sessions as long as one has questions and a desire to learn more. There is never any requirement or pressure to move on in the process or to become Catholic.
Beginning with a period of inquiry, the RCIA allows one to investigate all things Catholic, answering basic questions about Catholic teaching and belief, faith, religious practices, worship and the parish community. Also during this inquiry period, the Church (the people of God) shares its story of formation (salvation history) down through the centuries as recorded in the Hebrew and Christian Testaments.
The local parish community – represented by priests, deacons, the RCIA team and sponsors – also shares its story of formation, and helps to facilitate connections between each individual’s story (life journey) and the Church’s story. This first period of the RCIA, officially called the Precatechumenate, is a time of welcome, exploration and, most importantly, the recognition of God in our midst.
The inquiry period meets year-round on Tuesday evenings from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Randel House.
A person continues in the inquiry period as long as he or she has questions. Typically, the inquiry period lasts about four to six months.
Inspired to continue?
Before moving on to the second period of the process, an assessment of readiness is made to determine if each inquirer has: 1) a basic understanding of Church teaching; 2) experienced initial faith or a deepening faith in God; 3) made some preliminary changes in one’s life due to this new or deepening faith in God; and 4) a desire to know God better.
Once it has been determined that an inquirer is ready to move on, the Church celebrates the first rite of the RCIA process, called the Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens for unbaptized inquirers or the Rite of Welcome for baptized inquirers.
In the midst of the worshiping community, newcomers are introduced, prayed for, supported and mentored in the choice they have made to enter into Christian apprenticeship. This rite brings these new apprentices, now called catechumens if unbaptized or candidates if baptized, to the second period of the RCIA process called the Catechumenate.
Since Mass is so central to the life of the Catholic community, catechumens and candidates now join the community for public worship on Sundays during the 10 a.m. Sunday Mass. During the first half of Mass — called the Liturgy of the Word — catechumens and candidates are formed by the gathered community at prayer and God’s Word. Following the homily, the worshiping assembly prays for and sends the catechumens and candidates forth to continue to break open the Scripture readings just proclaimed.
After Mass, some members of the RCIA team and sponsors join the catechumens and candidates for refreshments and a catechetical session until 12:30 p.m. in the Randel House. These sessions focus on experiencing God’s presence during Mass, exploring the Catholic teachings related to the Scriptures just proclaimed at Mass, and responding to God’s Word in our lives.
Am I ready to join the Church?
The Catechumenate period is meant to last from one to a few years, if necessary. (The length of time varies due to one’s previous Christian formation, ability to attend sessions, understanding of the basics of Church teaching, preparation for the sacraments, commitment to the practice of the faith, and, most importantly, conversion to the person of Jesus Christ.) Most catechumens spend one year in the Catechumenate period; baptized candidates can spend four, six, nine or more months, depending on their religious formation, commitment and preparation for the sacraments.
Some baptized candidates may not need the two remaining periods of the RCIA process. Moreover, baptized candidates can celebrate reception into the full Communion of the Catholic Church (receiving Confirmation and First Eucharist) in the fall or summer of the year, not just at Easter. Discernment is necessary in each case to determine the appropriate path.
Purification and Enlightenment
Prior to moving into the third period of the process called Purification and Enlightenment, catechumens and candidates meet with the RCIA team and sponsors to discern their readiness to become members of the Church at Easter. Catechumens meeting the Church’s criteria for readiness to become members at Easter celebrate the Rite of Election in downtown Cleveland with catechumens from all the parishes in the Cleveland diocese. This rite, celebrated by the bishop, takes place on the first Sunday of Lent. It celebrates God’s choice (election) of these special people to become members of God’s Holy family, the Church. Baptized candidates, who are ready for reception into full Communion at Easter, celebrate the Rite of the Call to Continued Conversion at the 5 p.m. Saturday vigil Mass of the First Sunday of Lent.
The period of Purification and Enlightenment coincides with Lent, the Church’s own intense period of spiritual preparation six weeks prior to the celebration of Easter. During this period, catechumens celebrate three Scrutiny rites. Baptized candidates prepare to celebrate their first Reconciliation. Catechumens and candidates are introduced to the three traditional Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These disciplines plus reflection on the contrasting symbols of
dryness/water, darkness/light and death/life, found in the Gospel readings of the three Scrutinies on the third, fourth and fifth Sundays of Lent, prepare the catechumens (now called the elect) and candidates for the Easter sacraments — Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist.
Finally, after the 40-day Lenten “retreat,” the big day arrives. More accurately, the big three days — which we call the Triduum. The Triduum, three 24-hour periods beginning on the evening of Holy Thursday and ending with evening prayer on Easter Sunday, reaches its climax on Holy Saturday when new life rises from the baptismal font! (The elect “drown/die” and rise with Christ.) The newly baptized (now called neophytes) are confirmed along with the other baptized candidates; all then receive their First Eucharist.
Mother Church has just given birth to new family members! Now that is cause for celebration! And celebrate we do, by breaking the fast of Lent with food and fellowship in the Church Hall after Mass.
But wait! There’s more! There is one final period of the RCIA called Mystagogy. Mystagogia simply means recollecting the mysteries of our faith, the sacraments that have just been celebrated. New members continue to meet on Sundays after Mass for the seven weeks of the Easter season to reflect on the significance of what they have received (the Sacraments of Initiation) and whom they have become (the Body of Christ).
So there you have it! We hope this explanation has answered some of your questions.
Already Catholic and Want to Help?
The requirements to become an RCIA Team Member include four, 1-hour training sessions that can be scheduled at one’s convenience. Volunteers choose which period of the process they are interested in helping to facilitate. Inquiry team members attend Tuesday evening sessions from 7 to 8:30 p.m. to welcome newcomers, share their faith and help answer questions. Inquiry team members do not have to attend every Tuesday. Catechumenate team members are scheduled about every four to six weeks to facilitate a Sunday session from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. There are Catechist Manuals which provide the topic, catechist preparation, lesson plans, discussion questions and prayers for each session. Enlightenment team members are only needed during the six Sundays of Lent to facilitate prayerful, retreat-like sessions from 10:30 a.m to 12:30 p.m. Mystagogia team members are only needed for one hour after the 10 a.m. Mass on the seven Sundays of the Easter Season. All team members are scheduled in advance for the sessions they want to help facilitate.
If you have other questions, have an interest in exploring Catholicism or becoming a member of the Church, please contact Jenny Bonarrigo, our RCIA director, at 330-592-0086 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
We also need individuals and families from among the faithful to mentor these apprentices in the faith. Training is available. Contact Jenny Bonarrigo, our RCIA director, at 330-592-0086 or email@example.com.